Super Bowl XLIX — and those much-anticipated Super Bowl ads — are just a few days away, but people still talk about the ad many have called the greatest Super Bowl commercial of all time: Apple's "1984" commercial, the one that launched the Macintosh.
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the spot, directed by Ridley Scott, the future Oscar nominee who had just directed Blade Runner. The 60-second ad — which has been named the greatest TV commercial of all time by TV Guide and Advertising Age magazines — aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, just two days before Apple would change the world with the introduction of the Mac.
The "1984" ad itself was just as groundbreaking, not only leading Apple to more than $150 million in sales in the first 100 days of the Mac's debut, but also introducing the idea of the Super Bowl ad as entertainment, a part of the Super Bowl broadcast that is, for some viewers, the reason for tuning in on game day.
And, if the Apple board of directors had gotten their way, the "1984" spot wouldn't have aired during the Super Bowl at all.
Advertising man Fred Goldberg, who was the Apple account manager for Chiat/Day when the agency created the "1984" ad, details the commercial's history in his new book The Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of an Ad Man (Council Oak Books), and he talked to Yahoo TV about some surprising "1984" facts:
1. Steve Jobs loved the ad; the Apple board of directors did not.
"We showed them a rough draft, and they thought we were insane," says Goldberg, who was on the set for the three-day ad shoot in England. "Everybody thought it was going to look badly on Apple. Because Apple was really getting hurt by IBM at that point. In 1983, [IBM] was really beating the heck out of Apple … 98 percent of the companies in the world were using PCs. The [Apple] board of directors didn't think this was a very smart looking thing to put on the air. Here we are, slapping the [industry] leader in the face. It was a commercial like none other. It made a statement, a very aggressive statement, against IBM. Everybody likened the image of that guy who's doing the talking — we called him 'Big Brother' — to IBM, which was known as 'Big Blue.' That image was really going at the heart of IBM, and [the board] was concerned about what that would look like. They were concerned what the stockholders would say, and what their customers would say, so they got scared."
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a big fan of the ad — he excitedly introduced it at the 1983 Apple keynote address in San Francisco — and had even offered to pay for it to air himself. The Apple board was so against it, however, that they ordered Chiat/Day to sell off all 90 seconds worth of ad time the company had bought for the Super Bowl.
The agency's co-founder, Jay Chiat, had other ideas. "It was Jay Chiat's direction that everybody move very slowly," Goldberg laughs, "so we did." The agency managed to unload 30 seconds of Apple's ad time, but 60 seconds remained, and "1984" aired. "And look what happened," says Goldberg.
2. Myth: The "1984" ad aired on TV just once, during the Super Bowl.
The ad's official TV debut was on Dec. 31, 1983, on a station in Twin Falls, Idaho, planned so the commercial would be eligible for industry awards competitions that year (it won the Grand Prix at the 31st annual International Advertising Film Festival in Cannes in 1984). But "1984" also ran in 13 markets around the country in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, including a station in Boca Raton, Florida, for one very specific reason.
"It was originally scheduled to air in 12 spot markets, but Steve Jobs wanted to add Boca Raton, which was where IBM's headquarters was located," Goldberg says. "Hardly anybody [was] going to buy a computer down in Boca Raton. If you've ever been down there, you'll know there wasn't a lot of industry there, but he wanted to poke 'Big Blue' in the eye, so he added Boca Raton to the schedule."
And though the ad ran for two weeks before the Super Bowl, "It wasn't even a blip on the register until then," Goldberg says of the pre-Interwebs age. Post-Super Bowl, the commercial has only aired as part of programs about great TV commercials.
3. The "1984" ad was celebrity-free.
Unlike other computer companies at the time, Apple's big Super Bowl ad was free of celebrity spokespeople. M*A*S*H star Alan Alda starred in a 1984 Super Bowl ad for Atari, and The Incredible Hulk star Bill Bixby pitched Tandy computers, but the Orwellian-themed "1984" spot featured unknown British actress Anya Major as the woman who tosses the sledgehammer at the screen where "Big Brother" (British actor and voice artist David Graham, who had provided Dalek voices in early Doctor Who eps) is speaking to an assembly of followers (300 extras hired from off the street, who, according to Goldberg's book, were paid less than $25 a day for the shoot) hanging on to his every word.
Post-"1984," Major did star in another popular video: She was the titular Nikita in Elton John's 1985 music video for his hit song.
4. Myth: The "1984" ad cost $1 million.
Not even close, Goldberg details in his book. The production actually totaled around $650,000, and that budget included not just the "1984" spot that aired during the Super Bowl, but a 30-second version of the ad, as well as 30- and 60-second versions of ads for another Apple product: the (unsuccessful) Lisa computer.
5. "1984" tested poorly — really poorly — before it aired.
Goldberg writes in The Insanity of Advertising that he had hired a market research firm to test the Apple ad and present him with a report that would predict its effectiveness. The average score for a 30-second spot was 29.
The research firm's score for the "1984" ad: 5.
Goldberg says he's sure Steve Jobs never saw the report — which he still has a copy of and included a photo of in his book — but feels certain it would have made the tech legend even more committed to airing the commercial.
"I am almost certain that he never knew that the '1984' commercial was judged an unpersuasive research failure of the highest magnitude," Goldberg writes in his book. "I am also sure that it would have simply reinforced his personal belief in judging things from the gut and intuition, and not relying on 'scientific' tools like creative research. He knew from the very first moment he saw the idea that it was 'insanely great.'"